Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ganpati Bappa Morya

Its that time of the year when we embrace the adorable Elephant faced God-the remover of all obstacles! Happy Birthday Ganpati Bappa! And wishing all you guys a great Ganpati festival. Enjoy your modaks.:)


Monday, August 29, 2011

Eid Mubarak

A festival that embraces love, peace and brotherhood under the sweet fragrance of the moon! Eid mubarak guys! God Bless!


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy B'day Lord Krishna

His playful days in Vrindavan were stories which made our childhood days as mystical as the mythological stories. Happy B'day Lord Krishna! And Janmashtami greetings guys! Don't forget to get your share of butter.:)


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pahalgam: The colour of paradise
By Swetha Amit

What was once a humble shepherds' village is now converted into India's most scenic tourist spot. The mesmerising beauty of this place is what beckons Indian filmmakers. One can never feel bored here as time seems to fly just gazing at the exotic beauty of the streams and mountains. We drove down from Gulmarg to Pahalgam, on the way stopping at three must-visit places.

Ruins of an ancient temple: We first halted at the Avantipur temple ruins. This was built by King Avantivarman in the 9th century. It is well known for two huge shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. A guide showed us around and told us its fascinating history. The well-maintained gardens and ruins possessed a mysterious charm and we could see the past engraved on the walls. We were told that the Pandavas took refuge here during their exile. After capturing its beauty on camera, we continued on our drive.

Howzzat: Kashmir is known for its cricket bats which are exported globally. We stopped at a shop which exhibited a wide range of fine-quality bats at prices between Rs800-Rs1,000 and purchased one.

Ready for the rapids: The Lidder river, a favourite of rafters, gushed below. The adventurous streak in us exhibited itself as we stopped to indulge in some rafting. The two of us geared up and set off in a boat meant for six, following the instructions given by our guide. It was a thrilling ride and our breath froze as icy water splashed on us.

Tryst with horses, sheep and mountain goats: We spotted quaint cottages high up the mountains, which were rented out. The lives of local folk revolved around their horses, sheep and goats. The animals were left loose to graze. It was amusing to see the flock of sheep huddle into a big ball of wool, and the stoic mountain goats stare at us haughtily. At 10,000 feet, the sturdy creatures were more hairy than their lowland brethren.

Once upon a time there was a lake: Our next stop was Tulian lake, which was frozen for most of the year. Surrounded by mountains, it was just a patch of ice. We walked around for a while enjoying the scenery.

Himalayas instead of the Alps: We soon reached the abode of pine trees, carpets of green with the ranges of snow peaks in the background. We were at a loss for words as we stared at the picturesque view. Called the Baisaran Valley, one is bound to forget even Switzerland on seeing this spot. Replace the Alps with the mighty Himalayas; Kashmir would put its European counterpart to shame. We headed towards a waterfall in the Sheshnag river that flows down from Amarnath. It was a steep climb down.

Gateway to the Amarnath Yatra: We rented a Sumo for a ride to Chandanwari. There were numerous shops bustling with people and activity. Horses were available for the Amarnath Yatra which had commenced. Carrying luggage and people, ponies trotted up the rocky pathway effortlessly. Dipping our fingers in the Sheshnag River, we vowed to do the yatra the next year.
Betaabwadi: A site where numerous films have been shot, this valley is very aptly named after the movie 'Betaab', a major part of which was filmed here. We bumped into kids carrying furry white rabbits and lambs, which made for good photographs.

A walk to remember: The Aru valley is another scenic spot worth a visit. It was a short but fun-filled trek up the rocky pathway surrounded by nature at its best with wild horses grazing peacefully in green meadows.

Kashmir was the Mughals' favourite summer resort; now it is the most sought- after destination for film shootings and India's most beautiful tourist spot. Peace prevails in the paradise as it hopes to gain back its glorious days again. The snowy peaks of the Himalayas, pristine streams and green meadows beckon tourists. Life would be incomplete without a visit to this magnificent 'heaven on earth.'

How to get to Pahalgam
By road
: Pahalgam is 96km from Srinagar and well connected by road. Buses and taxis are available from Srinagar.

Best time to visit: The best time to visit Pahalgam would be between the months of March-September.

Things to do
River rafting in the Lidder river is a highly recommended activity. One needs to take a change of clothes.
One can also opt for horse riding for excursions and sightseeing around the valley.
Pahalgam is a fine destination for trekking. Some famous routes are: Pahalgam-Chandanwari-Sheshnag-Panchtarni-Amarnath cave temple-Sonmarg. The other option being Pahalgam-Chandanwari-Sheshnag-Rangamarg-Humpet-Kanital-Lonivilad-Panikhar-Kargil.

The cost for a two-night stay in Pahalgam would be anywhere between Rs3,000-4,000 per person.
Hiring an entire boat for the two of us cost us around Rs1,500. However it could work out to be more economical.
Horse riding up to Tulian lake and other places would cost around Rs1,200 per person.Lastly, hiring a local vehicle to visit Chandanwari, Betaabwadi and Aru valley would come to Rs1,500 per vehicle


Gulmarg: The land of winter sports

By Swetha Amit

Moving ahead from Sonamarg, we travelled to Gulmarg, 'the meadow of flowers'. A beautiful hillock area set at an altitude of 2,653m, it is surrounded by fir trees and snow-clad peaks. It was a long but interesting drive, and we made a few stops.

Bowing down to the goddess: We first stopped at the temple of Goddess Kheer Bhawani, a Hindu pilgrimage centre second in importance after the Amarnath cave. Situated in the middle of a pool of spring water, the temple is built of marble and has a golden dome. One of the unique features of the spring water is that it changes colour. Black is considered a bad omen, foretelling disaster.

Around the lake in 80 minutes: We moved on to Wular Lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia. The large lake looked intimidating. Unlike the shikara ride on Dal lake, which was bustling with tourists, this one was quiet. We rowed along enjoying the mild afternoon sun and the rippling waters of the lake. Not known to many tourists, the lake was a soothing sight to the eyes. The lake reflected the surrounding moutains and clouds in shades of blue. We learned that the lake contributed to about 60 per cent of the fish yield of Kashmir valley. It was also an important hydrographic feature of Kashmir and acts as a flood reservoir. We noticed ducks and some unique species of birds. As we neared the shore, we tried our hand at rowing the shikara, which turned out to be a fun but tedious task.

Exploring the paradise valley: We rented fur coats to stay warm at an altitude of 13,000ft. Walking along mountainous roads amid lush green pine trees, we spotted purple lilies of the valley along green patches highlighted by the evening sun. We went by the army training school, where the army officers and jawans underwent vigorous training sessions.

The elite sport: Gulmarg prides itself on possessing one of the world's highest green golf courses. It consists of an 18-hole course. We could see why it was called as the 'Golfing Mecca of India.'

Christ in the vicinity: Our next stop was the church and we were told that during winters the the entire area was covered with snow and only the church stands out. We climbed higher and got a panoramic view of the valley and the base camps of the Indian army.

The gondola ride: One of the major attractions of this beautiful town is the gondola or cable car ride, the world's highest. The journey in the first phase takes you from Gulmarg to Kongdori valley. At a height of 2,600m (nearly 8,530ft), we got beautiful views of Gulmarg. The second phase took us from Kongdori valley to the upper regions of Kongdori mountain, at a height of 4,200m (nearly 13,780ft). The cable car was capable of conveying more than 600 people in an hour. We were told that it acted as a lift to skiers who visited Gulmarg between December to March. We got off at the top after a 20-minute ride into snow.

Snowflakes, skiing and army jawans: As we rode a sledge further up in the bone-biting cold, we were thankful for our fur coats. From the top, we got a breathtaking view of the Kashmir valley and the snow-capped mountains of Nanga Parbat. We climbed further up to near the Line of Control and expressed our appreciation of the army jawans' valour and effort at keeping the borders safe. We realised skiing was a difficult sport while attempting to not fall over. After trying on our own for a few minutes, we were helped by expert skiers. Gulmarg can qualify as the land of winter sports. Half-a-day in the snow and it was time to get back to the valley and experience the gondola ride again.

Melting ice: We next opted for a pony ride. It was a pleasure to gallop in meadows where nature was at its pristine best. We reached the base point where small tents were serving hot tea and refreshments close to waterfalls formed of melting ice. We sat there a while to enjoy the serenity of the falls. Wild horses grazed in the meadows and the sheep were being taken back home. We saw the beauty of Gulmarg increase multifold as various shades of colour ran across the landscape in the setting sun.

How to reach Gulmarg
By road
: Gulmarg is 47kms from Srinagar and there are several buses and jeeps operating from Srinagar.

Best time to visit The best time for skiing in Gulmarg is between November and February. March to September is also good to experience the evergreen landscapes and enjoy a game of golf.

Things to do
Gulmarg is ideal for skiing during winter, between November and February. The ski gear and instructor services can be hired.
It's also popular for outdoor sports such as golf and horse riding during spring and summer.
Gulmarg is excellent for trekkers and trekking equipment can be hired. The well-known trekking routes are Gulmarg-Khilanmarg-Apharwat-Alpathar;Gulmarg-Danwas-Tejjan-Tosha Maidan and Gulmarg-Kantarmarg.

A two-night stay in Gulmarg can cost anywhere between Rs5,000-7,000.
The cable car charges for both the phases, to and fro, sum up to Rs800 per person.
If one decides to opt for a sledge ride, it would cost around Rs800 per person, to and fro.
The skiing trial and ride would add to Rs750 per person.
The pony ride up to the fall would cost Rs350 per person.
The horse ride around the valley would cost Rs500 per person for a two-hour ride.


Sonamarg: Galloping up the glacier

-By Swetha Amit

We left Srinagar for a three-hour drive to Sonamarg, which in Hindi means the 'meadow of gold'. A trip to Kashmir is incomplete without a visit to Sonamarg and the Thajiwas Glacier, where it snows year-round. A trekker's paradise, this place is just 84km from the city and a memorable journey as the landscape abounds with gurgling streams.

Going with the flow: Situated at an altitude of 3,000km above sea level, the drive to Sonamarg is spectacular. We drive alongside the Sindh river. Streams adorned with pebbles, the little tea shop in the vicinity and segments of the glacier on the sides of the road only added to the beauty as we drove to our accommodation.

Dressing up like Eskimos: The road afforded breathtaking views of the snow-capped Himalayas. As we started to explore, horsemen offered to take us to the Thajiwas Glacier. Equipped with coats and boots designed for a walk in the snow, available on rent in local stores, we felt like Eskimos.

Greener pastures: The pine and fir trees made a pretty contrast to the snow and listening to local folklore made the ride to the glacier interesting. The guide was only too happy to count the names of the movies shot in the serene beauty of Sonamarg. For people like us, habituated to traffic and a breathless pace, the slow life in this part of the country was something new and our entourage stopped to see a flock of sheep grazing amidst green pastures. We fell in love with the soft wooly creatures instantly.

Dashing through the snow: We reached the glacier and inspite of the coats were chilled to the bone, but that didn't dampen our spirits. We opted for a sledge ride right up to the topmost point of the glacier. As we went higher up the glacier, we were at a loss for words to describe its beauty. The glacier brought out the child in us and we hurled snowballs at each other. The journey down was fast and fun as well. The hot tea besides a stream warmed our chilled bodies. After the trip, we couldn't help thinking that Kashmir would indeed make many European countries such as Switzerland eat humble pie.

The last village: We then decided to drive up to see the border beyond which the gateway to Ladakh opened. Our first stop was the fish point, a fishing and angling destination. The stream frothed with tiny fish. There were tents for visitors who liked to camp there. We soon reached a point where the green of Kashmir gave way to the dry, barren landscape of Ladakh. As evening set in, the sunset amid the snow-capped beauty of Sonmarg amazed us. It felt like looking into a picture-perfect postcard. We couldn't help but agree with Emperor Jehangir when he said ''If there was heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.''

How to get there: Sonmarg is accessible by road from Srinagar and situated about 84km from the city.

Best time to visit: The best time to visit Sonmarg would be between the months of May-September.

Things to do: Sonmarg happens to be the base camp for the Amarnath Yatra. The yatra is organised during the months of July and August every year. Popular trekking routes are from Sonamarg-Vishansar-Kishansar-Gadsar-Satsar-Gangabal.

One night in Sonamarg would cost around Rs3,000 per person.
The horse ride up to Thajiwas Glacier would amount to Rs1,000 per horse for about half a day.
A sledge ride can vary anywhere between Rs600-Rs1,000 depending on how high one would like to venture up the glacier.
The hiring of a Sumo to the last village would come to around Rs700 per vehicle.


Scent of the Mughals

By Swetha Amit
After exploring the Dal Lake on a shikara, we set off to explore the rest of Srinagar. The city has a unique blend of beauty, history and tradition. A visit here would be incomplete without a trip to the Mughal gardens, Shankaracharya temple, Hazratbal shrine, Jamia Masjid and the shops in the market. We began our tour with a visit to the Shankaracharya temple.

In God's abode: The Shankaracharya temple nestled on Takht-i-Sulaiman hill, which is about 1,000 feet above Srinagar. Being a Sunday, the road up the slope was filled with cars. After security checks, we went by car upto the landing of the stairs leading to the temple. We had to climb multiple steps to reach the holy abode. From the top, we got a beautiful view of the picturesque valley. A visit to this ancient shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva is a a soulful experience. Stone steps once led to the Jhelum river from the shrine. It is built at the site where the Advaita saint and philosopher Adi Shankaracharya stayed on his visit to Kashmir.
The flower show: After seeking blessings at the shrine, we visited the gardens in the city built by the Mughals. Kashmir is said to have been the favourite summer resort of the Mughal rulers and the gardens exhibited their love and care in the enchanting beauty of stepped terraces and water courses. There are four such gardens.

Fountains and roses: We visited the Botanical Garden first. It has a lake with boat rides being optional. We decided on a stroll across the acres of greenery. Blooming flowers of various hues were sprinkled like starlets on patches of green. The roses were spectacular in yellow, white, pink and red. We noticed gardeners hard at work, sweating profusely in the hot sun. We were in no doubt that their perseverance led to the creation of the botanical wonders. Another section of the garden had herbs renowned for their medicinal properties.

The garden of bliss: We then explored Nishat Bagh which is also known as the Garden of Bliss. This was built by Asaf Khan, the brother of Empress Nur Jahan, in 1633. It was built on the banks of the Dal Lake and has a panoramic view of the Zabarwan hill. A cascade of elegant terraces, about twelve in number, had water flowing through various chambers. The garden was crowded with families and was clearly a popular joint on weekends. Tourists could pose for photos wearing a Kashmiri outfit and flowers.

The abode of love: The Shalimar Bagh was built by Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan. Spread across acres, it had four terraces with staircases leading from one to another. Water gurgled through the canal located in the middle of the garden. It also gave a delightful view of the Dal lake.

Siraj Bagh: Asia's largest tulip garden: This was unfortunately not open during our visit. It is accessible only from March 15 to April 15. A recent attraction, it is India's answer to the tulip gardens in Holland and is considered a must-visit.

Badamvir Garden: This is a relatively quieter garden built by Emperor Akbar. This was the most beautiful amongst the four we visited, and made us wonder why more tourists did not frequent it to enjoy nature at its best. The yellow, pink, white and red flowers seemed like the jewels on a cascade of green. One could see bees resting undisturbed on rosy petals and birds trotting about without a care in the world. The garden provided a glimpse of a majestic fort in the distance.

The white marble shrine: Next we offered prayers at the Hazratbal shrine, one of the holiest in Kashmir. It enshrines a holy hair (bal) of Prophet Mohammed, which is displayed to the public on special occasions. Exquisitely constructed in white marble, the shrine had separate praying sections for men and women. We noted that it had a domed roof, unlike its counterparts that had distinct pagoda-like roofs.

Jamia Masjid: Situated in the middle of the old city and a phoenix in its own right, the Jamia Masjid was burnt down twice and finally reconstructed by Aurangzeb. It has a magnificent courtyard with a pool of water. Pigeons equalled devotees. We spent a few minutes in the serene prayer room where people were offering their afternoon prayers.

Kashmiri folk art: Our last stop for the day was the marketplace which displayed exquisite Kashmiri handiwork. One of the stores had souvenirs and show pieces. The shikara and houseboat models had intricate woodwork and came in various sizes. They were priced between Rs100-Rs300. We then looked at some interesting pen stands available at Rs100-Rs200. There were fancy bells priced at Rs50.

Srinagar was a mesmerizing experience. We realised why Emperor Jahangir called it the land of the eternal spring. The sincerity and hospitality of the Kashmiris amazed us. They yearned for more tourists to come and visit their land. We hope that the political turbulence will soon be a thing of the past and visitors from all over the world throng Kashmir.

How to get to Srinagar

By air: There are daily direct flights from Jammu, Delhi and Mumbai to Srinagar airport.

By rail: The nearest railway station is Jammu which is about 300km from Srinagar. There are trains from Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

By road: Jammu and Kashmir State Transport Corporation operates coaches from Delhi, Chandigarh and Jammu, and Srinagar is well-connected by road from these cities.
Best time to visit The best time to visit Srinagar would be between March –September.

A two-night stay in the houseboat inclusive of breakfast, dinner and a shikara ride per person would cost anywhere between Rs2,000-Rs3,000. The charges for getting photographed in a Kashmiri outfit comes to Rs100 per photo. The entrance fees for the gardens cost about Rs10 per person. The gift items can cost from Rs100 to Rs2,000.

Points to be noted
Dress conservatively to respect the local community.
Carry a jacket or shawl as the evenings in Srinagar tend to get chilly.
Avoid littering the gardens.
Maintain silence while visiting the mosques.


Kashmir: Paradise on earth

By Swetha Amit

If there was a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” exclaimed Emperor Jahangir when he saw Kashmir, and Swetha Amit agrees wholeheartedly
Swetha Amit

17 August 2011

The word ‘Kashmir’ evokes mixed responses from people. It could be pride about its beauty, from those who have visited the paradise as they term it, or fear due to its security issues. It was a ‘Is it safe to go there’ statement which greeted us when we mentioned about our short vacation to Kashmir. What was India’s top tourist destination and one of the most sought-after in the world once, is considered a terror capital today. Unresolved issues and political turbulence have affected tourism. However, behind this veil of problems lies a beautiful valley that one could only imagine on picturesque postcards.

Taking advantage the stable situation now, we decided to explore this heavenly abode. We came back awestruck by its resplendent beauty. This is one place that will do India proud. It is recommended as a must-visit. The warm hospitality of the Kashmiris, green meadows, snow-capped mountains and gushing streams make one feel that one has landed in paradise.

As we drove down from Srinagar airport, we caught glimpses of the magnificent Dal Lake, which we had heard much about from our elders who visited Kashmir during the 1980s. The famous lake was adorned with colourful houseboats and shikaras. Life around this large water body was interesting in itself. A shikara ferried us to our houseboat. The shikara is a small boat with comfortable cushion seats, and a mode of transport on Dal Lake.

Housed in a boat: We were given a warm welcome by the caretaker. Our houseboat had pretty plants at the entrance. The exquisite interior took our breaths away with its plush furniture and hygienic rooms. We could hear the splash of the water as shikaras whizzed past with the lively chatter of families. The open porch offered a breathtaking view of the Himalayas and the entire lake. Many Kashmiri families live on houseboats, while others rent them out to tourists, making houseboats a valuable source of income.

A take at being a Kashmiri: The shikara that came our way had two photographers with colourful Kashmiri attires and props. Tourists click pictures dressed as Kashmiris and create treasured memories of their trip. We were no exception. We slipped into the costumes and posed with baskets of flowers against the limpid background of Dal Lake. We later hopped into another shikara which took us on a little tour.

Rowing on the lake: It was around five in the evening and still bright. We were told that the sun set very late and we would be blessed with good light for about three hours. The boatman talked about life on Dal Lake while rowing. Several shikaras stationed themselves beside ours, offering jewellery, accessories, provisions and vegetables. The buying and selling across the shikaras reminded us of the floating market in Thailand. The market area of the Dal Lake had shops in the houseboats selling the handiwork of Kashmiris.

Confessions of a shopaholic: Even if one's purpose is not shopping, one look at Kashmiri crafts is bound to turn you into a shopper. The colourful handmade shawls, shirts, bags and bed covers enticed us to pick up a few. The shawls especially were a great buy at Rs500-Rs800. The embroidered shirts were also priced in the same range. The bed covers with beautiful designs of the Dal Lake imprinted on them were priced around Rs1,500-Rs1,800. The shopkeepers said that we could place our order, have it shipped to whichever city we resided in and make the payment at the time of delivery. After spending an hour in the shops, we came out as satisfied customers. One factor that came across to us on our shopping expedition was the sincerity and perseverance of the Kashmiri folk.

Solitude in the swamp: We soon ventured into a desolate area of the lake. There were ducks about and we managed to capture a white stork on our camera. We spotted a man fishing on a small boat. The lake gave way to tall grass and marshy patches.

Life in the lake: During winters Dal Lake freezes up and people are confined to their houseboats till spring, when the lake buzzes with shikaras. The shikara rides reminded us of gondola rides in Venice. This was probably the reason why Kashmir was awarded one of its titles, ‘Venice of the East.’

To be continued...



Just got back after a fantastic trip to Leh,Ladakh. It was an adventurous and an unusual experience up the mountains. Driving through the passes at at altitude of 18000 feet amidst snowfall was the closest one could get to nature. We visited a lot of intriguing monasteries, the Nubra valley which is known for its Bacterian double humped camels. We also camped overnight here at Hunder village. After which we visited Pangong lake which is close to the Indo-China border. Leh,Ladakh is unique and a destination which would put India on the globe. A detailed version coming up later.


Monday, August 08, 2011

I am Kalam: Profound and stirring

Some small budget films evoke several emotions in a person that can put blockbusters to shame. 'I am Kalam' is one such movie which manages to tap the sensitive side of the viewers.

Set in Rural Rajasthan, the film revolves around a young boy Chottu who is employed in a Dhaba run by Gulshan Grover. Instead of going to school, Chottu washes vessels, serves the tourists and manages to charm them with his earnest ways. However the thought of reading never evades the young lad as his fascination for learning comes through the movie.

He befriends the son of the Thakur, a school going boy who also yearns for some good company. Gradually a bond forms between the two as one aspires to learn something from the other. The film slowly takes a turn into how Chottu is accused of being a thief and forced to run away to Delhi. As the truth unveils itself, a search party goes to Delhi to bring back Chottu to the land of the sand dunes and restore his righful position in the school premises along with the Thakur's son.

The movie brings out various shades of human aspects and the society. It subtly delves into child labour and stresses the importance of child education. It also highlights the consciousness of the upper class in befriending the lower segment of the society when the Thakur mentions how his son should befriend only equals. It also brings out the delightful element of friendship when the Thakur's son stands up for his friend and removes the ghastly accusation made on Chottu.

I am Kalam makes one smile, moist eyed and smile again as the film comes to an end. It’s a profound message which is convincingly conveyed in just 90 minutes. It’s a pleasure to see such small budget films create such an impact. It makes one realize that big things come in small packages.


Friendship day

Friends are like rainbows, they brighten up your life when you have been through a storm. Happy Friendship day!!!


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

'Soul Surfer': Soul stirring

Some movies tend to instil faith in life and yourself. Soul Surfer is one such film which gives a heart-warming message.

Based on a true story, it’s about a girl named Bethany Hamilton who aspires to be a professional surfer. She is all set to participate in the competition to win the title. However fate takes its cruel turn as she loses an arm in a brutal shark attack.

The story goes on to narrate how she copes up after this traumatic experience. Her courage and grit propels her to take a plunge into the waves again. She takes part in the competition and manages to score points for her highest wave. However due to the incompletion of her surf within the time limit, she loses out on the title. The beautiful dialogue follows this climax where she says even though she didn’t win, the last wave did make a difference.

The movie teaches one a lot. Winning isn’t everything in life. What matters is whether the attempt makes a difference to our state of mind. Despite losing an arm, Bethany doesn’t lose hope. With determination, she manages to live her life as normally as possible. It takes immense courage to venture into the seas again and resume a sport which caused an accident. It emphasizes on the never say die attitude and most importantly it stresses on not to wallow in self-pity.

Life often balances out in one way or the other. Every time we are struck by a catastrophe, we should learn to pick up the threads to move ahead in the journey called life. As the movie highlights in a few scenes that God might have other plans in store for us.

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